"Arabella!" Mama called from the kitchen, the heavy Northern accent evident in her voice, along with everyone else's that lived around here. "Come along for breakfast hun!"
It was around seven in the morning, five hours away from... well, you know, the reapings. It gives me time to do my chores, at least. Provided that I worked extra-fast, I'd have time to take a nice, long bath and have Mama do something nice to my hair.
"Coming, Mama!" I hollered back at her as I tied my hair back into a low bun. It probably didn't look very pretty, but I didn't need it to look pretty in order to work. Striding out of my room and into the hallway, I tucked a stray strand of hair behind my ears and stretched out my stiff back.
The smell of bacon and eggs hit my nose, and I breathed in the smell gratefully, my mouth watering and stomach growling. Rarely do we have bacon, seeing as it's so expensive. Maybe it's because of the reapings to help us all feel better that I might have to go to my death later on. But what are the odds of that? My name only goes in seven times, since I am eighteen and have never taken out any tesserae. Sure, sometimes we've struggled like any other family does in this country, but my parents forbad any one of us (my two sisters, now too old to be eligible, included) to take any tesserae out. The less chance of us being thrown into the arena, the better.
My boots clunked noisily on the wooden floor as I made my way to the stairs. I could hear the sound of conversation flow through the wooden floorboards, but it was too quiet for me to make out any words. My fingers absentmindedly went up to my hair again, playing with that one little bit that was too short to go back into the bun.
"Arabella! Guess who decided to pay us a visit?" Mama chirped loudly in a sing-song voice, and even though I couldn't see her now, I knew that she was smiling ear to ear. Mama is happy by the littlest of things, so her smile is nothing new to me. But, there is some comfort along with it, like when I was little and her smile would coax me back to sleep after a nightmare. from years of watching the Hunger Games on television.
"Who?" I asked with curiosity as I started my way down the stairs, though I had a pretty good guess by now. Mama nor Papa had much of any friends, besides the friends that Papa had from hauling hay and working on farms. You get to know people around here. Even though we are the livestock district, farming is a big thing around here as well. Not as big as it is in District 11, but big enough that there are plenty of fields to go around. We have one ourselves, a corn field, on top of a nicely-sized garden my mother and I tend to.
The two people standing at our front door proved my premonition correct. My lips pulled into a semi-smile as my eyes locked with theirs, taking away the melancholy feelings that comes with this day.
Two young women, who couldn't be older then twenty-one, with golden locks of hair and sparkling emerald eyes, waited for me at the door. Nice dresses, evidence that they had money to spare, covered their slight frames. The one on the left, Arianna, with cork-screw curls that fell just past her shoulders and a light yellow dress with long-sleeves trimmed in lace. The one on the right, Isobel, had hair that was straighter then Arianna's, but still had gentle waves in it, falling down her back. A rose pink dress covered her, with short sleeves and a scoop neckline, not as modest as Arianna's. Of course, Arianna's stomach bulged out, a sign that a baby was on the way. Their faces were different, most definitely, with Arianna's taking after Mama's and Isobel's taking after Papa's.
My smile then stretched clear across my face. a real smile this time, as I quickened my stride to get down the stairs quicker. Those stairs seemed to be getting longer and longer as I tried to reach the two.
"It's about time you two showed up!" I stated teasingly as I made it to the bottom of the stairs, placing my hands on my hips and glaring at them playfully. Happiness sprinkled in my tone and, surely, in my eyes. Very rarely do I smile on this day, and these are some of the only people that I would allow.
The two women smiled back at me, and next thing I knew, I was enveloped in a bone-crushing hug. I did my best to return the hug, but with two people that had exceptionally tight grips for such tiny frames, it could be difficult, even for me. From helping out on the farm to working in the kitchen my whole life, I've developed quite the muscles, if I do say so myself.
"It's good to see you guys too," I gasped out as the breath was shoved out of my lungs. I tried not to hug back too hard, as the woman on the left had her baby to worry about.
"We figured that now was as good as time as any to come visit." Isobel said, her eyes tearing up slightly as she broke away from the hug.
"Arianna! Isobel! Aren't you going to give your own Mama a hug?" my mother demanded as she walked towards them. My papa followed, two small children, one boy, one girl, clinging to his feet. The girl, Evelyn, had the same gold locks as Papa, Arianna, and Isobel, with the springy curls Mama has, with the same dark chocolate eyes that she shared with both Mama and myself. The boy, Emerson, had the same dark brown locks that Mama and I possessed, with Papa's emerald eyes. Mama, myself, and Evelyn had the darker, more brown then gold skin tone, whilst everyone else had ivory.
"Hi, Mama." they greeted warmly, unaffected by Mama's scolding, hugging both Mama and Papa.
"It's good to see all of you again." Arianna added, shaking her golden curls out of her face.
"Why haven't you been able to visit?" Mama demanded as she broke away from Arianna's hug.
Resting a hand on her swollen stomach, she replied, "Derek doesn't think it's good for the baby for me to be going here and there."
Mama chuckled to herself as she shook her head, her brown curls falling into her face. Evelyn and Arianna were the only one to inherit the cork-screw curls from her. My hair was wavy, yes, but not full-out curly. "Don't let a man run your life, Arianna. I certainly don't. Just ask your papa, he'll tell you," Mama laughed, nodding towards the man hugging Isobel. His green eyes flickered up, humor swimming in their shiny depths.
"It's true. I can't seem to get your mama to do anything," Pa said with a laugh and shake of the head. His golden hair, though streaked with gray in some places, was still shiny and strong.
"Let's sit around the dinner table and have a nice breakfast while we catch up," my mother instructed, guiding Arianna towards a seat.
"Mama, I'm only eight months along! I don't need help sitting down!" my sister cried as Mama pulled out a chair for her. Though grudgingly, she sat down, before turning her emerald gaze to Mama's retreating back as she went into the kitchen to retrieve the breakfast. I could almost taste the bacon, with a bit of egg on top, sitting on my tongue. I'll admit, Mama's a Hell of a cook.
"Arabella, are you going to eat, or just stand there and fantasize about it?" Isobel teased, causing me to roll my eyes.
"You'd fantasize about food too, Bells, if you worked on a farm all day long." I replied as I walked over to the table and plopped down in the seat next to Arianna. Papa sat down across from me, Isobel sat to the right of him, and the two small children sat on his lap, waiting for Mama to put them in their high chairs.
"I wish you would stop wearing those God-awful pants, too. They're all stained and dirty! Why can't you get a new pair or wear a dress?" Isobel nagged as I leaned down to adjust the laces on my boots. My good old work boots, comfortable and shaped just for my feet.
"They're a Hell of a lot easier then dresses to work in, Isobel." I muttered, retying the laces as I tried to ignore her nagging. She hasn't been here for five minutes and she already brought up these pants. So what if they've become stained over the past few years? They still fit and I can move in them, that's all that matters to me. I do not want a new pair of work pants, and that's that.
"Arabella! Watch your tongue!" Papa scolded, though it was half-hearted. Even he was getting sick of Isobel nagging me to get new pants or to start acting more womanly and ditch my tomboy personality. Not that I blamed him. It's my belief that everybody is getting sick of it.
"Sorry, Papa." I mumbled apologetically, leaning up from my boot-laces. My eyes didn't even flicker over to her, instead favoring the faded wooden table that is the place that we eat all of our meals at. Even when Papa and I are outside, Mama always calls us in for lunch and supper.
"Why do you still work on the farm? You aren't planning on inheriting it, are you?" Isobel asked in shock. Papa looked at Isobel with exasperation in his eyes (he too tired of hearing her constant griping at me, but he doesn't bother since intervening never helps). The two small children didn't comprehend what was going on, really. If Mama was within earshot, she would've probably scolded her for bugging me about this. Mama is perfectly ok with me wanting the farm one day. But even she sometimes tries to convince me to wear a dress and start to act more feminine then I normally do.
"Yes, I do wish to inherit it one day. Is there a problem with that?" I growled out as Mama swept back into the room, both of her hands occupying plates heaping with eggs and bacon. My nose never fails me, does it?
Before I reached out and grabbed a plate, a delicate hand fell over my fist, squeezing it softly. I gazed up gratefully at Arianna, who smiled softly at me, her eyes shining with understanding. I smiled slightly back at her.
"Forgive her." Arianna whispered in my ear. "She means well."
Arianna was always the nice girl, the one who forgives easily and never holds a grudge. To be frank, I'm jealous of her child-like innocence. Our mother was more worried about her going into the arena then Isobel, because Isobel is a fierce girl who would fight no matter what. Arianna would try to become allies with the wrong people and end up with her throat slit. Good thing they both avoided being reaped. Hopefully I can last two more without my name being called out in a loud voice, by our escort, Trina. She's... loud, but she isn't quite as bad as what I've seen from District 12's. Effie, I think is her name. Trina at least doesn't sugar-coat everything. The way Effie makes it sound like a festivity, something we should be celebrating instead of hating, rubs me and a lot of other people the wrong way. And don't get me started on her wigs. Trisha doesn't wear one, instead dying her hair a rosy pink, her natural curls not unlike my mother's or Arianna's. She doesn't treat it like a festivity. It's a wonder why they haven't arrested her for not being peppy enough about it.
I blew out a deep sigh, nodding slightly. Arianna is the only one that could convince me to do anything outside of my comfort zone.
"I suppose now isn't the time to be making grudges." I muttered back as I used my free hand to grip a clean plate, all cleaned and ready for my food.
She smiled, filled with her special warmth and innocence, and released my hand after giving it a final pat. Then she too, grabbed a plate and started to fill it.
The next twenty or so minutes are filled with the sounds of everyone eating. My plate, loaded with eggs and bacon and a piece of toast, disappears within ten minutes. I'm always the first done, and the first out there. I even beat Papa outside most of the time.
"Arabella, stick around." Mama said as I started to stand.
"What is it, Mama?" I asked in confusion as I slowly lowered myself back into my chair. Mama never has asked me to stick around after a meal, not once. She lets me go off and do my own thing.
"Well, your Papa and I have been talking, and we decided to give you a day from your chores." Mama said. My right eyebrow rose to my hairline. The only times I've been given a day off from my chores was when I was sick.
"Really? Why?" I asked skeptically, eyeballing both of them.
"Well, it's the day of the reapings, and we figured that you'd rather spend the rest of the morning with that one friend of yours, Aiden." Papa said with a nod. "He's only a friend, right?"
This causes the whole table (besides the young ones, who didn't know what was going on) to burst into laughter.
"Papa!" I giggled. "There's no need to worry! Aiden's been my best friend since we could toddle!"
"That's exactly my point! Who knows what these teenage boys are thinking nowadays?" he asked gruffly, the old overprotective father role kicking in. Somehow, for eighteen years, I have avoided this. Why now, must he start?
"Papa, they're thinking the same thing you were thinking when you met Mama when you were my age." I laughed nervously. "Bye!" With that, I zipped out the door, not caring that I was still in work clothes. It's only Aiden, and he never cares. It's not like he doesn't wear something along the lines of it, since he lives on the farm about a mile down the road.
As I started my walk towards his house, a thought occured into my mind.
What nice weather for reaping day.